If for some odd and insane reason you haven’t yet realized the genius of those four lads from Liverpool or of Paul McCartney, then your about to have your life changed for the better. Thanks to streaming service giant Hulu they present us with “McCartney 3, 2, 1”. The three hour docuseries, broken up in six parts at thirty minutes each. We follow the genius of Paul McCartney & legendary music producer and cop resident of Columbia Records Rick Rubin. The two revisit the making of McCartney’s song catalog from The Beatles to Wings to his later years as a solo artist.
The now 79 year old McCartney and Rick Rubin (both producers on the project) sit together in front of a mixing board, which Rubin uses to great effect over a period of two days at a hastily assembled soundstage near McCartney’s Hamptons home last August. The music guru’s chat through various songs, by stripping down and deconstructing one great Beatles tune, Wings and McCartney solo compositions after another in a forensic style analysis.
“McCartney 3, 2, 1” has such a relaxed feeling, but is chockful of warm-hearted stories from the Fab Four’s pre-fame years, including Paul and John Lennon’s early playful spats. Of course McCartney doesn’t forget to tell the story of how he and John Lennon met and made the perfect writing partners; how he heard “Yesterday” in his dreams; how Jimi Hendrix covered “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” two days after its release; how he helped Lennon make “Come Together” sound swampy; how a depressed Paul retreated to Scotland and went back to basics after the Beatles broke up; how he and first wife Linda, were robbed in Lagos and all of their demos for Band on the Run was stolen.
McCartney, who picked up the bass by default after Stuart Sutcliffe left the band. McCartney became a melodic, inventive player whose bass lines helped form the foundation of the Beatles’ sound. Nothing is off limits to McCartney from his time with the Beatles through Wings and then some. In some of its finest moments, “McCartney 3, 2, 1” highlights every one of lads to make sure they all get a moment to stand out during the conversation.
Both “Something” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” are discussed with regards to George Harrison. McCartney sheds light on “Guitar Gently Weeps” that featured non-Beatle, Eric Clapton in the recording studio playing the now legendary guitar riff. It’s extremely fascinating to see them break the track down and listen to Clapton playing against Harrison and his guitar. Later on, Ringo Starr gets his moment in the Ringo led “With a Little Help from my Friends” and how “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” were two different songs but they always got sung together because of how the tracks were laid out.
McCartney doesn’t forget to share what producer George Martin had brought to the table and his herculean efforts in his collaboration with The Beatles. McCartney generously attributes many of the Beatles’ most profound recordings to Martin’s expertise within the studio, including the producer’s “wind-up” piano technique that made the spirited guitar-piano duet in “A Hard Day’s Night” possible. McCartney also credits Martin for elevating both the Beatles and popular music alike with the producer’s innovative string arrangements for their classic songs “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby”.
Another conversation discusses the James Bond theme, “Live and Let Die”. McCartney explains that he read the book on a Saturday and by Sunday, he was in the studio talking with George Martin. There’s also a fun little story of McCartney telling a story of how “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” wasn’t based off the LSD drug, but comes from an idea by Julian Lennon and a drawing he had done in school. But of course you can’t talk McCartney or The Beatles without a shortage of material about John Lennon, which he is never forgotten here.
Rubin who helped popularize hip hop music has produced work for the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and Run-DMC. He carefully prods McCartney along the way, give us stories about the origins of the songwriter’s work, as well as the nuts and bolts that went into making them possible. And the music that they loved and inspired them like Little Richard, Roy Orbison, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye and Bob Dylan.
We don’t need another Beatles documentary, although we’re getting a definitive six hour Peter Jackson film called “The Beatles: Get Back” that launches this November on the Disney+ streaming service. We also don’t need another touring Beatlemania documentary as we already got a great one from director Ron Howard in 2016. Nor do we need to explore the stories of the greatest rock n’ roll band that people already know so well. Instead, what we need and what we got with “McCartney 3, 2, 1” is getting to talk shop with a genius musician who happens to be a Beatle.
Filmed in the downtime during the pandemic, the Hulu film is less about McCartney as a cultural icon than about his talents as a musician and artist who plays bass, piano, guitar and drums, among many other instruments). It focuses on his extraordinary musical chops and this is really something that hadn’t been focused on before. And that’s why “McCartney 3, 2, 1” feels so fresh.
“McCartney 3, 2, 1” not only feels fresh but looks fresh by design and director Zachary Heinzerlingstrays away from that overproduced documentary look. The film itself is filmed in black & white that features a simple setup and a visual palette mixed with a few archival clips of the Beatles, McCartney home movies and footage of other artists who influenced the lads.
There’s a real joy in spending time with McCartney and you just can’t help but smile after Rubin and McCartney listen and breakdown “And Your Bird Can Sing” to find McCartney saying with a smile “Good Group”. McCartney says in the last half hour of the film that Lennon and him wrote at least 300 songs. He also looks back saying that “At the time, I was just working with this bloke called John. Now I look back and I was working with John Lennon”.
The Beatles’ music is still so ubiquitous that most have never thought about or really sat and listened to the brilliant individual elements within their music to really comprehend why the band’s catalog still remains so crucial and timeless. “McCartney 3,2,1” is one of the best things on the big screen or the small screen to come this year.
McCartney makes sure to mention how he doesn’t have any regrets in his professional career and continues to forges ahead musically, having recently released his 18th solo studio album, “McCartney III” in December 2020. McCartney will continue to move forward musically until his dying day. But those who love his art are lucky that he likes looking backward, because not too many artists loves to look to the past as McCartney does. But “McCartney 3, 2, 1” proves that his career is the stuff of legends.
GRADE: ★★★★★ (5 out of 5)